Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am: Tax cut carrot; Barclay hangover

Bill English greets a toddler at the National Party annual conference before a speech that dangled the carrot of a second 'family incomes package'. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we follow up on a weekend spent at the National Party annual conference in Wellington.

1. Dangling a tax cut carrot

Prime Minister Bill English staged a dress rehearsal for his August 25 campaign launch on Sunday with a speech to the National Party annual conference that outlined his vision for New Zealand going into the 2020s.

It was short on new policy, but did dangle the vague prospect of a second family incomes package of tax cuts and other benefits.

"Before anything else, National will keep the economy front and centre of everything we do because we know we have to keep the economy growing before everyone can share in the benefits," English said.

"A strong economy on its own lifts incomes, but of course the Government can also help. The budget's family incomes package was an excellent step forward," he said.

"Wouldn't it be great if we could do it again? Well we can. If we are able to keep lifting growth and carefully manage the public finances, we will be able to further reduce taxes and lift incomes."

Later at a news conference that soon became dominated by questions about the Todd Barclay scandal, English would not give specifics on what a second family incomes package would look like.

He said the Government's first priority was to bed in the first package, which is due to apply from April 1 next year.

Another package would depend on lifting economic growth and managing the Government's finances. If those conditions were realised, there was the potential for the Government to do it again, he said.

"So you're not going to see a whole lot of specifics about a second incomes package before we've got the first one in place."

See more on the conference speech in my Newsroom piece, with some of the atmospherics from the Michael Fowler Centre, including plenty of blue placard waving and a new (original) campaign song.

2. A Barclay hangover

Any hopes English and National might have had of clearing Todd Barclay off the front pages with a blast of conference razzamatazz and vision speeches were soon dashed.

English's news conference after the speech and an interview he gave to Patrick Gower on The Nation were dominated by questions about what he knew about Todd Barclay's secret recording and what both he and the National Party's board had done about it.

English began the weekend by repeatedly suggesting to Gower that the recording might not have existed, even though Barclay had told him about the tape. His argument was the police investigation had never determined the tape existed.

However, the Prime Minister undermined that line on Sunday when he admitted that Barclay had offered to play him the recording. English said he had not agreed to listen to the recording.

The latest revelation served to emphasise the differing recollections about the recording that have emerged through the week.

Firstly, English said he couldn't recall if Barclay had told him about a recording. Then he produced a police statement detailing how Barclay had told him face-to-face about the recording. Then English said he wasn't sure if the recording existed. Then he said Barclay had offered to play him the recording.

English also denied having told Barclay to delete the recording, but could not say this morning (in an interview with Susie Ferguson on RNZ) whether others in the National Party had told Barclay to delete the recording.

Questions also remain about why English didn't act to prevent Barclay's re-selection. English again said yesterday he had told the electorate chair about the recording, which was the limit of his responsibility.

See Sam Sachdeva's article on Newsroom for more detail on English's latest comments on the recording, including this picture of a lone protestor outside the conference.

3. A board hangover

English is not the only one facing some curly questions about what they did and didn't do about Barclay.

Board member Glenda Hughes declined to comment about whether she pressured Glenys Dickson to drop her complaint to police about the recording. I spoke to Hughes on the fringes of the conference on Saturday. A clearly upset Hughes walked off when pressed on the issue, referring only to a statement put out by board President Peter Goodfellow.

Goodfellow said members of the board of National, including Hughes, "had various discussions with numerous members of the Party in Clutha-Southland over a period of several months."

"Those conversations were private and all discussions around the board table are conducted in confidence. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to discuss them in the media," he said.

"I have absolute confidence Glenda would have acted with integrity at all times."

Newsroom reported on Tuesday that a National party board member had spoken to Dickson within weeks of her laying a complaint with police over a secret recording made of her conversations by Barclay.

“I was told if I didn’t withdraw the police complaint I could potentially take down the National Party, and there was an [implication] that if National didn’t have Barclay in Parliament they were one short to pass legislation," Dickson told Newsroom.

Dickson said she was also told that it would be difficult for her and her family if she had to appear in a high-profile court case.

“The board member explained to me if I withdrew my complaint I would be considered a hostile witness and the police would have not had a case," she said.

The New Zealand Herald identified Hughes as the board member who had spoken to Dickson, causing some legal experts to suggest the former police officer was open to allegations of obstruction of justice.

Police said this week they were re-examining the evidence in the case, which they had closed in December last year because of what they described as a lack of evidence.

English later said he and the National party board would cooperate with any police investigation, if it was re-opened.

4. Nine complaint letters

More emerged from Newsroom's reporting yesterday on the number and detail of the warnings that Goodfellow and the National board received about Barclay's behavior.

Melanie Read reported detailed written accounts of the now-disgraced MP’s behaviour had been provided to the board and the candidate selection committee before they allowed his nomination to go forward.

The board and the selection committee knew Barclay had:

  • already broken National Party rules by releasing the name of a challenging candidate.

  • breached the rules by speaking to the media between the close of nomination and the close of the pre-selection process.

  • spoken to his electoral office staff about employment matters that breached a confidentiality agreement.

  • not declared police had asked him to be interviewed over the taping of conversations of staffer Glenys Dickson on his candidate nomination form.

  • got staff in his Gore electorate office to canvass delegates to support his reselection when it was outside their contractual obligations and a misuse of taxpayer money.

  • there were issues around a $5000 loan Barclay had been given by the party for campaigning. At this point the loan had not been repaid or disclosed in the campaign donation register.

National party members wrote nine letters to the board and Goodfellow between early December and late January.

Barclay decided on Wednesday not to stand again after admitting to telling English of the recording, having earlier denied to the media and his constituents that he had made a recording.

Barclay did not appear at the conference. His name was read out to delegates as one of the retiring MPs, along with Craig Foss, John Key, Hekia Parata, Jono Naylor and Lindsay Tisch. Barclay's name was the only one not applauded.

See more from Melanie Read on that on Newsroom.

5. Differential charges for tourists

However, the conference wasn't all about English's concluding speech and the Barclay affair.

Newsroom's Lynn Grieveson reported from the conference's Environment session for delegates about a looming increase in costs for tourists.

Tampers from overseas will soon have to pay substantially more to access huts and campsites on New Zealand's so-called Great Walks as part of a shake-up of the management and marketing of the DOC estate.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry told the session that part of the $76 million in Budget funding for the Department of Conservation would be spent on a new computer system to enable "differential pricing", allowing DOC to charge international tourists more than New Zealanders when they booked walks on tracks such as the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler.

Referring to recent calls for a levy on arriving international visitors, Barry said: "We won't be putting a border tax on, that's not how we roll.

"But what we are doing with that new computer system, which is part of that $76m, we are investing into a modern, fit-for-purpose DOC computer system to take bookings."

See more in Lynn's piece on Newsroom.

6. Reporting back from Iraq

Newsroom's Foreign Affairs and Trade Editor Sam Sachdeva also covered the conference's session on foreign affairs, trade and defence.

Defence Minister Mark Mitchell gave a report back to party delegates about his trip last week to Iraq, and how much of a difference New Zealand troops there were making.

He also expressed doubt that Isis would be beaten before the end of December 2018, which is when New Zealand's presence at Camp Taji is supposed to end.

That raises the question about whether the mission will be extended again.

See Sam's full piece on Newsroom.

7. Education, law and order and health

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw covered the conference's sessions on education, law and order and health, all of which will be in focus in the election debate as population pressures, violent crime and over-crowding.

Paula Bennett, Nikki Kaye and Amy Adams featured in the sessions, which were popular with delegates.

See Shane's report in full on Newsroom Pro.

8. One interesting thing

One thing worth noting is that over 600 delegates attended the National Party's flagship annual event, but over 800 people were reported to have attended Winston Peters' speech on Sunday in Palmerston North, where he launched his 'Campaign for the regions'.

Peters announced in the speech that New Zealand First would return the GST paid by tourists to the regions. He also said students would have their debt wiped if they pledged to stay in New Zealand and work for the same number of years that they studied.

Reports of the event show a significant number of younger voters in the Peters audience.

The Roy Morgan poll taken on June 9 and published on Friday night showed support for New Zealand First down one at nine percent, with National up 2.5 points after the Budget to 46.5 percent and Labour down three to 25.5 percent.

This predictions model by statistician Peter Ellis is useful. It compiles the various poll results and suggests New Zealand First is on track for over 10 percent, while National is just under 45 percent, Labour is at 27.5 percent and Green is at 11 percent. That would put Winston firmly in the driver's seat in any post-election negotiations.